Sunday, November 16, 2014

Threshing Wheat in a Winepress

What a great Sunday it was among God's people! Cold temperatures outside, warm hearts inside. As always we went to first service, starting at 9:30 a.m. Last week the sanctuary was cold, due to a furnace going out. Today it was comfortable.

For worship choruses we sang songs that I knew. The worship leader didn't introduce a new song to us this week. So that was good. Pastor Mark then continued his sermon series, Imperfectly Perfect. This has focused on a number of people from the Old Testament, people who were imperfect in their character and circumstances, yet who God used in mighty ways. This week it was Gideon, one of the judges if Israel.

His story is told in Judges 6-8. His story is well known, yet I find it difficult to call to mind many of the details. He is best known for "putting out a fleece," asking God to reveal his will by the condition of the fleece as opposed to the ground it sat on all night. Some people feel that Gideon did wrong by doing this, since God had already revealed His will to Gideon. Regardless, many Christians "put out fleeces" to hope to better understand God's will.

But Gideon's story starts before that. In Judges chapter 6 the Midianites had control over Israel. They were warriors, and pretty much rampaged through Israel. The Jews were fairly scattered, with towns and farms in the hills, and some in the plains, all with no central government or organization. Midianites would raid anywhere in Israel and pretty much take whatever they want. The Israelites "prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves, and strongholds." Pastor Mark pointed out the significance of of the following statement from Judges 6:11
...Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites."
I had never thought of this before. You don't thresh wheat in a winepress; you thresh wheat on a threshing floor. I've seen one of those, in Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, where an 1837 New England community was recreated. The barn is built with doors on each end. When the wheat is brought in someone stands in the passageway in the barn, and tosses the wheat up, letting it hit the floor as it comes down. Then he picks it up with the pitchfork and does it again. As he picks it up and releases it, any breeze blowing through the two doors will cause the chaff to blow away and the wheat to fall back to the floor. To make this work, you need a floor in a place where wind is available.

In contrast, a winepress was low to the ground probably in a pit of some sort. Wind wasn't a factor in how grapes were turned to wine after harvest. So the Jews might hew one out of rock, down in a pit. This was a safe place for Gideon to thresh his wheat. If it wasn't the season for grapes, the Midianites wouldn't be looking there when they made their raids. While it would be a lot of work, threshing wheat without the wind to blow away the chaff. It could be done, it would be safe, and Gideon could remain hidden.

Mark said this had theological significance. Gideon was showing himself to be scared of the Midianites. He was also showing himself to have a small God. Rather than thresh out in the open, and trust God to keep him safe, he hid down in the winepress. Yet, this was the man that God called to be a judge of Israel and to lead them in battle against the enemy.

I have to confess at never having noticed this significance before. The idea that a winepress was down in a hollow while a threshing floor was up in the open went right over my head all the previous times I read this. It has me thinking, whether I have been guilty of threshing wheat in a winepress. I'm going to look through my current endeavors in life and evaluate all of them relative to this concept. Why hide your work in a winepress when God is able to help you be safe on the threshing floor, out in the open? Yes, I'll be going through my life and see what I should change.

No comments: